Washington. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on Cambodia to release activists detained in protests over land rights and to permit free elections, the State Department said on Wednesday.
Clinton met in Washington on Tuesday with Cambodia’s foreign minister, Hor Namhong, as Phnom Penh prepares to host this year’s meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Offering a fuller account of the meeting, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Clinton discussed a broad range of issues including human rights.
Campaigners say Cambodia recently jailed 13 women and detained an activist monk as they tried to symbolically rebuild homes of families evicted to make way for a private development at Boeung Kak Lake in the capital.
Clinton “did express our concern over the recent protests regarding land rights issues and urged Cambodia to allow Boeung Kak Lake detainees full access to due process,” Nuland told reporters.
Clinton told Hor Namhong “that their release would be a sign of support for freedom of expression,” Nuland said.
Land titles are a murky issue in Cambodia where land ownership was abolished during the genocidal 1975-1979 rule of the Khmer Rouge and many legal documents were lost.
Nuland said that Clinton also raised the case of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who lives in self-imposed exile after being convicted on a series of charges such as forgery that his supporters contend are politically motivated.
“The secretary talked about the importance of a free, fair, transparent election in 2013 and with appropriate participation across the political spectrum,” Nuland said.
But Clinton commended Cambodia for not moving ahead with a controversial law that activists fear would constrain non-governmental organizations.
Non-governmental groups have played an active role in rebuilding Cambodia since it emerged from the Khmer Rouge regime and civil war. Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly clashed with groups over their power of the purse and occasional criticism of government policies.